How I Do It: Uma O'Neill on Being an Amateur but Riding (and Living) Like a Pro

How I Do It: Uma O'Neill on Being an Amateur but Riding (and Living) Like a Pro

At only 25 years old, Uma O’Neill’s show jumping career is on the cusp of really taking off. With a win in the CSI4* World Cup Qualifier at Thunderbird last summer and recent top results in national grands prix, Uma is on the up and up. And yet, she has (somewhat miraculously) held on to her amateur status while maintaining her current string of horses and showing up and down the West Coast.

“It’s just kind of the lifestyle I’ve learned,” Uma says about the nomadic horse show routine. “I don’t really know anything else.” While some might be overwhelmed at the prospect of balancing ‘real life’ with horses, Uma takes it all in stride. Her horses live at home, as does her trainer, Mariano Maggi, so things are done more ‘family style’ around the barn.

All that’s left to do is watch Uma climb the ranks right before our eyes. How does she do it?

Despite her young age, Uma likes to live life on the quiet side, preferring an early bedtime. “I like to be in bed by 8:00 every night,” she says. “A 5:30 dinner sounds fantastic to me.” For Uma, this schedule isn’t just about maximizing beauty sleep — it’s also what keeps her on top of her game in the ring. “I think it makes it so much easier to not get burned out if you try to stick to a routine.”

Early to bed, early to rise, but Uma isn’t getting up with the sun to dash off to the horse show. “I’ve been lucky that I don’t have any 8 a.m. classes with the group of horses I’ve had,” she says with relief. “I get up at 5:30 or 6:00 every day, but I sit around. I get up, drink my coffee, and I don’t rush.”

Like a true millennial, Uma enjoys modern workouts — SoulCycle, specifically. “When I’m at home, I really enjoy going on a Monday morning and just starting my day off that way,” she says. “During the week, I go a lot in the evenings after I ride [the horses].” Frequent sessions on a bike, too, are paying off: “I’ve worked a lot on my cardio in the past few months, and I can tell it makes a huge difference in the ring.”

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But physical condition isn’t the only kind of ‘fit’ Uma pays attention to. Her mindset has shifted over the recent years, which she attributes to scaling back and focusing on what works for her.

“I’ve really worked hard on being able to stay in the moment in my rounds, and it’s not been something so easy for me,” she says. “I’m able to keep my mind much more in the current step and preparing for the next steps ahead instead of thinking about what happened.”

So, how does she stay present? “Go over your course in your head,” Uma imparts. “I try to make a mental picture of what I want it to look like for myself. It very often doesn’t go that way, but at least I try to really take that moment and just mentally think about what I’m looking for and the goal of what I want the class to be.”

Uma has found a way to make the pressure of horse showing work to her advantage. “When I was a junior, I had the hardest time leaving [the show, mentally],” she shares. “Last year, I only had one horse really showing and he was only doing the bigger classes and it really trained me to leave. I realized how important it really is and it taught me how to take that time for myself.”

Uma says that as a junior, she was riding for fun, but “now the focus is 100 percent on the horses.” The amateur life looks good on Uma.

Read this next: Welcome to Amateur Status: 3 Skills You Already Have That Will Help You Transition from Equitation to Jumpers

Feature photo by Sportfot. Inset photos by Anasofia Vazquez for